(Haaretz) — As everyone in show biz knows, if you want attention, you’ve got to have a gimmick, and more than a decade ago, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach came up with a great one.
In 1999, Boteach published Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. It wasn’t the first time sex advice was offered from an unlikely source. He figured correctly that if people were willing to talk sex with a little old Jewish lady named Dr. Ruth Westheimer, they would surely go for sexy marriage advice from an ultra-Orthodox rabbi dressed in black - Dr. Ruth with a yarmulke.
He’d already test-run the concept with success in Great Britain - when he published a similar book a few years earlier provocatively titled “The Jewish Guide to Adultery: How to Turn Your Marriage into an Illicit Affair.”
The “Kosher Sex” concept was a hit, Boteach became a media favorite and dubbed “Dr. Ruth with kippa” - the book was excerpted in Playboy Magazine. Using the Bible and the Talmud for examples, Boteach argued, in a world of one-night stands, that committed relationships could be sexy and that “passionate love making” leads to marital bliss. It was an age-old message that many people, mostly women, wanted to hear, and got Boteach on the sofas of Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, behind the microphone of his own radio show and ultimately his own series, Shalom in the Home.
Beyond the sex and relationship talk, Boteach never missed an opportunity to get his name in the headlines by rubbing shoulders with celebrities. He told The Guardian “God gave 10 commandments at Sinai, and the 11th commandment, which they expunged but which has come down orally, is ‘Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition’.”
As an early profile related, Boteach argued about pornography with Penthouse publisher Larry Flynt, fixed up Roseanne Barr’s daughter with a nice Jewish boy, and befriended Deepak Chopra. More recently, he escorted TV medical guru Dr. Oz on a trip to Israel. Most famous, of course, was his stint as Michael Jackson’s “spiritual adviser.”
Women, have your husbands snuffed out your libidos? Do you feel like you no longer need to pursue beauty, wit, insight, creativity and personal sensuality because your lazy-ass husband flips through the TV stations and stumbles into bed after his nightly dose of porn and afternoon office sex with his mistress? Do you feel that the vows you made with HIM to lust for each other in sickness and in health are violated now that you’ve left your parents’ loving home and your beauty isn’t overwhelming anyone?
I read with interest Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s post about the struggles of Sara Diament, author of a book on sexuality education for young girls — a book targeted towards Orthodox Jews. I’ve had religion and sex on the brain this week.
“Religious sex” was the name of a now-departed fetish boutique on St. Marks place, whose windows my friends and I used to ogle in middle school. But religious sex —that is, figuring out how to have and enjoy sex within the confines of proper worship — is also a growing trend among the seriously devout. This week, A New York Times article about a Christian porn-addiction recovery group made waves, while The Guardian offered its own piece about online sex shops for observant Muslim and Christian couples. Interestingly enough, the porn-recovery group, which treated essentially treated female interest in sex as sinful, had only a handful of members. Meanwhile the online stores, ranging from tame to tantalizing, were absolutely mobbed with visitors.
All this reminded me of the long-ago media frenzy around the “Kosher Sex” empire created by Rabbi (and rent-a-talking-head) Shmuley Boteach.
The New York Times reports that the upshot of a recent freewheeling panel discussion is that the judiciary wants its members to be more, well, judicious in their dress. There is a move afoot, apparently, to have lawyers be more appropriately shod and dressed during courtroom proceedings than they have recently been.
Should there be a similar freewheeling discussion in the Jewish community? I’d love to see it.
What defines modesty for us, if we don’t ascribe to the Satmar look for women (non-clingy tops buttoned to the neck, skirts grazing the ankles, hair covered not just by a wig, but also by a hat)? What about modesty for men?
I felt a bit shocked the time I saw a Muslim woman in my neighborhood totally veiled in black, her face covered, alongside men I took to be her family members, who were clad in shorts and tank tops.
Sure, most schools — including Jewish day — schools have dress codes. At the one my kids attend, no shorts too short or lingerie, i.e. camisoles, masquerading as streetwear, are permitted.
Then there are the posters that have appeared on streetlight posts building walls in Crown Heights in the past several months, warning women that they should be dressing more modestly. Given the sartorial trend toward downright sexiness there, I can understand it. No more dowdy long “seminary skirts” for these young women, especially the married ones. Instead, curve-hugging skirts hitting just below or at the knee — sometimes with a slit and high-heeled shoes — make for what the rabbis regard as an “un-tznius” appearance.
No one among us non-frummies would advocate that women give up driving cars, as they have in Kiryas Yoel, near Monsey, because their rabbis have decided that it’s “not modest.” That sounds more like Saudi Arabia than the world in which I live.
But there are legitimate differences of opinion even among we more liberal folk. Two summers ago I taught writing at a Reform movement summer camp for teenagers. When I commented to my friend K, who also worked at the camp, that I thought some of those 17-year-old girls were dressing too revealingly, she took issue with my view.
I find myself uncomfortable, sometimes, with my 10-year-old daughter wearing tank tops, but struggling to articulate to her why it is no longer appropriate when it is super-hot outside and no sleeves is truthfully the coolest garb to have on.
Modesty, inside and out. Let’s take up the discussion.
Later this month, the peripatetic Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is taking the stage at Nessah Synagogue, a Persian Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, to debate Patti Stanger — the yenta matchmaker of the hit Bravo series “Millionaire Matchmaker.”
Stanger, a Jewish, third-generation matchmaker, was profiled by the San Diego Jewish Journal last year. You can read here. Rabbi Boteach, for all his media-savvy self-promotion, espouses a much more traditional view about what makes relationships succeed. Stanger, who favors miniskirts, works in a world — that is to say Los Angeles — where 40ish men with more money than sense expect to date 20-something women with perfect bodies and professionally blown-out hair. Stanger is happy to make the shidduchim, for fees steep enough to keep a Botox account open indefinitely.
According to Stanger’s company Web site, the non-refundable memberships for men start at $25,000 (cash or check only, please, no credit cards). It costs an additional $30,000 for her staff to do a “personal search” beyond the women in their database.
On her show Stanger catalogues her clients’ flaws — trying to shape up the nebbishy, nerdy and clueless before their dates. She screens women who have submitted professional glamour shots until she finds an acceptable group of about two dozen, who she introduces en masse to one or two of her clients in kind of a harem cattle call. The client selects three women with whom he wants to chat, and then one or two to actually take out on dates, with the cameras rolling the whole time.
Watching “Millionaire Matchmaker” is a little like watching a slow-motion train wreck. You feel a bit sickened, but at the same time you just can’t look away. Stanger’s gig with Shmuley, billed as “Can Money Buy Love? Dating in a Material World,” will take place April 28.